Pro shot: Downs signs with Green Bay IFL team
A.J. Downs will begin his pro career in Green Bay.
The former Jamestown College cornerback had a number of offers from minor-league teams, including one in Germany, but the well-established IFL franchise won out. He is familiar with the team’s coach — Chad Baldwin — who Downs played for in an all-star game last year.
“I felt like I had a good connection with him. He’s a good coach and I just ended up feeling the most comfortable with that situation,” Downs said.
The Los Angeles, Calif., native played for the Jimmies in 2011 and 2012, earning All-American honors as a senior. He registered 105 tackles from his cornerback position. He had three career interceptions and 11 pass break-ups.
He spent the fall working out and finishing up his degree in physical education and will graduate in December. He’d eventually like to coach, but hopes to stretch out his playing days.
“I’m trying to make this my gateway to the next big thing, whatever that may be,” Downs said. “The best case scenario would be to have a great season and hopefully that leads to catching the eye of some bigger leagues.
“The great thing is I have this opportunity. Now I have to make the most of it.”
The Green Bay Blizzard franchise began in 2003. Currently, one of the team’s co-owners is former Packers standout running back Ahman Green. The team plays in a 10,000-seat arena, located near Lambeau Field.
The IFL currently has nine teams with a 14-game season. Downs reports for training camp Feb. 1 with the first game Feb. 22.
The team announced Downs signing on its website this week. Baldwin is high on Downs on and off the field, and left open the possibility of him playing some offense, too.
“A.J. is a passionate young man who is eager to lead others with his actions,” Baldwin said. “He mentors and coaches other players to follow in his path. He can play both defensive back and receiver.”
The Blizzard went 4-10 last season, but were 11-3 the previous campaign, advancing to the IFL semifinals.
“They’re well-established. They have a history of success, and that played into my decision,” Downs said.
The league pays between $275 and $300 per game and puts players up in apartments during the season. Downs is looking forward to the opportunity, but still has work, in and out of the classroom, to complete.
“Over the years I’ve learned to manage my time, that comes with being an athlete,” he said. “You have to take care of your business and have everything in order.”
Downs, listed at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, has fought the stereotype of being too little his whole life. Combine that with coming from a small school and he knows it’s an uphill challenge, but he’s taking it head-on.
“Mainly I want to show people that no matter what school you come from, or what level you play at, you can still make it,” he said. “All I can do is give great effort and play up to my capabilities. Hopefully, I play well, raise a few eyebrows and make a name for myself.”
Sun sports editor Dave Selvig can be reached at (701) 952-8460 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org